Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by She Reads

From the publisher:

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

When I found out the lovely ladies behind She Reads chose Orphan Train for our May read, I was beyond excited. I’d already been eyeing this title – ever since reading The Chaperone the concept of orphan trains has fascinated me, and I was looking forward to reading more about this interesting topic, something I’d never heard of before The Chaperone exposed me to the concept. So it goes without saying that my expectations for Orphan Train might have been a little on the high side.

Happily, this novel lived up to these too-high expectations! Orphan Train is my favorite kind of historical fiction – the kind that is built around a particular time in history, and teaches me something, but mostly is about the characters living inside the piece of history. And these characters were great. I particularly felt a connection with Molly, and truly I would have liked even more of her story to have been told in this novel. She was such a good person, deep down, who just needed an adult in her life to draw out her potential and show her what love looks like. It was such a pleasure to read as her character grew over the course of the novel and began to come into her own, inspired by the love she found in the few people around her who bothered to care.

And Vivian! The awful conditions she was forced to live with as a child astounded me, and how horrific that these adults who were charged to “take care of her” treated her in such vile, inhumane ways. It truly made me want to throw up. Or cry. Probably both. At the end of the book, when a few loose ends have finally been wrapped up for her, I wanted to sneak inside the pages and hug her like I would my own grandmother. What a sweet, but incredibly resilient and strong woman she was.

Christina Baker Kline’s writing is simple but incredibly effective. I found myself racing through the pages, desperate to get to the bottom of Vivian’s story and find out if Molly would, finally, find some peace within herself. I clung to these characters and, while I wanted to know how their stories ended, I didn’t want the book itself to end. I found so much to appreciate and enjoy about this book, I truly don’t feel that I’ve explained it well enough.

Orphan Train is a beautiful historical novel that I honestly could not put down. I loved these characters and if I have any complaints about the book, I would have liked it to be even longer. I could have easily spent another 100 pages curled up with this story, with these women, as I learned about them and from their lives. Once again, She Reads does a great job with choosing their monthly selection – this was an excellent choice. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to read it.